Bland Budget Blahs
Coyne gets the Liberal Party's budget politics about right
You know, they're not fools, these Liberals. If the Conservatives thought they could just ride into power on a wave of public revulsion at Adscam and related scandals, they should think again. There's a reason why the Grits have won all those elections.
He also suggests that the Conservatives have to stop running away from engaging the Liberals for fear of being called extreme. Right again. But my sense is that the discomfort of the Conservatives is even more acute.
Up until the end of February it was a pretty good bet that the Conservatives would elect a leader and then lose the next election with a degree of dignity. This would have given them an opportunity to ditch the residual socon legacy of the Reform and Alliance and get down to creating an alternative vision for Canada. Martin would serve his single term and the Conservatives would have an excellent chance of winning the following election.
Adscam upset this calculation. The Grits begin to look vunerable and Martin looks less inevitable - perhaps an illusion; but one which will set the Conservative operatives on the scent of blood. If they can just keep the country focused on Adscam then the poverty and contradictions of their own current policy positions might just remain their little secret.
If there is an election which might actually be won there is the danger that the Conservatives will propose nothing at all for fear of offending the sturdy voters of the GTO and the Maritimes. Anything to avoid giving the Liberals the ability to get out the extremist whitewash.
The great challenge for the Conservatives is to give up any hope of winning this next election. Because that hope will colour every bit of policy and platform, every speech and every ad. It will drive the Conservatives to the mushy center where the Grits will simply say, "they have no platform, no reason to govern...we do, and we have the experience and the savvy Canada needs". It will be a slaughter but, worse, it will not advance the Conservative Party one inch towards forming a government. Because the Liberals will be right.
Goodale has proposed a budget which keeps taxes high, the debt unpaid and government spending as a percentage of GNP roughly the same. Each position is open to attack. Each is open to counter proposals.
The test for the new Conservative Party is whether it is going to follow the old time PC strategy of sailing just slightly to starboard of the Grits hoping for the occasional wind shift to pop them into office, or if they are willing to sail their own course according to their own reading of how best to govern Canada. Yelling "Me too, but better" will leave them a perpetual also ran.
At root, the Conservatives must decide, as the NDP under Layton have done, whether they are courageous or cautious. Both routes can win elections. But only courage will create an alternative governing party.